Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Little Stars - A Hetty Feather Adventure from Jacqueline Wilson

Hetty Feather has started a new chapter in her life as she embarks on the road to stardom as a glamorous music hall artiste along with her dearest friend Diamond. They dramatically escape from Tanglefield's Travelling Circus and eventually seek the bright lights of London's theatre world, dreaming of a glittering future. They become the Little Stars of Miss Ruby's show, performing alongside many colourful acts including a face from the past. But life at the Cavalcade Theatre proves dangerous for the girls when Miss Ruby's nephew starts paying unwanted attention to Hetty. She has to fight to protect little Diamond and find a good future for them both.

The book introduces new characters alongside old friends. The return of Bertie, the butcher's boy, brings some drama into Hetty's life as she struggles to understand her feelings for him. Flirty Bertie has become quite the star on the stage since they last saw one another. Hetty wonders what her future will be, thinking about husbands and settling down. Attending her first love Jem's wedding further adds to her confusion. Has she lost her one chance at true happiness?

Will the girls find a place they can call home? Will Hetty's dream of being a successful actress come true? Will Bertie ever figure in her future? These questions are explored in this thrilling tale of stardom, heartbreak, love, loss and self-discovery.

Jacqueline Wilson's style brings to life a time long ago, when Mrs Beeton, workhouses, penny farthings, music halls and frilly frocks were the norm. It gives a gentle insight into Victorian England and gives today's readers a chance to see what life was like for girls like Hetty Feather. Nick Sharratt's illustrates the front cover and adds a silhouette sketch to start each new chapter.

This is the fifth Hetty Feather story from Jacqueline Wilson, so fans of the wonderful and irrepressible Victorian girl will delight in catching up on her latest quest for adventure. The book contains some slightly mature themes and is aimed at girls aged 9 - 12 years old.

Little Stars will be published by Doubleday on October 8th in hardback for £12.99. It will also be available as an e-book.

Jacqueline Wilson

Monday, 28 September 2015

Little Live Pets Cleverkeet Playground Set Review

Freddy has been a big fan of Little Live Pets ever since we attended the Little Live Pets Takeover event at Eureka back in the summer of 2014. The interactive animal toys give children the experience of handling toys that act like the real creatures, which respond to their touch and voice. Freddy loves the birds, which mimic what you say to them and sing songs. He was delighted to have been sent one of the latest Little Live Pets toys from Character Options; the Cleverkeet, which comes with its own interactive playground playset. 

Taking the interaction even further, the Little Live Pets Cleverkeet not only responds to your voice, sings and talks, it also dances, drives a cart, swings on a perch, flaps his wings, shakes his head and eats food, all the while chatting to whoever is playing with him. It certainly is very clever!

Little Live Pets Cleverkeet

The Cleverkeet comes with demonstration batteries and will do a selection of his interactions in demo mode. Once replaced with 2 AAA batteries and switched on, the full functionality of the bird is unleashed. You can name him and he will respond to that name during play. He even comes with his own adoption certificate. Freddy called his Cleverkeet Squirtle.

Little Live Pets Cleverkeet

The Cleverkeet chats away asking to be positioned on the swing, at the food bowl, on the hand perch or in the cart. It also likes to dance in front of the mirror on its perch and asks you if you have any tunes that you can play for him. Freddy had the Cleverkeet dancing along to Britney Spears and while it grooved away it told him that the song was awesome! It's really good fun.

Little Live Pets Cleverkeet

The Talk to Me and Talkback functions allow the Cleverkeet to record and repeat phrases and use them during play. Sometimes it will mash up phrases to make funny sentences, which amused Freddy no end. For example it started saying that it was really good at bananas instead of dancing, which Freddy thought was pretty hilarious. The Cleverkeet can also be quite sassy, again making Freddy laugh. When on the removable hand perch, it will copy back what is said instantly, just like a real talking parakeet does. Sometimes, it will ask you to ask it a question and will reply to any yes/no type question with a comment similar to a magic 8 ball. The level and complexity of the chatter is really quite impressive.

The Cleverkeet really gets going when placed in the handcart. Once correctly positioned, it will tilt its body up and down to propel the handcart forward. This is a great addition to the toy that can be used independently from the rest of the playset. The Cleverkeet is also very good at swinging on the swing perch, making its body rock to and fro, creating its own momentum. These independent movements take the imaginative play to a whole new dimension. The flapping, bobbing, tilting and head movements definitely add extra action and realism to the interactive nature of the toy.

Little Live Pets Cleverkeet

Petting the Cleverkeet unlocks extra animations and sounds when it is in the cart, on the swing, eating or being held. The more you play with it, the more varied the interaction becomes. Children feel like they are really taking care of the Cleverkeet, meeting its needs and having fun. If you stop interacting with it, it tries to get your attention for a while by making sounds, but will eventually fall asleep. You can wake it up and resume playing with it whenever you want to. It remembers what it has learned, but can be reset if needed, for renaming and to delete stored recordings.

Little Live Pets Cleverkeet

All in all, this is a great addition to the Little Live Pets family. It's fun, with good interaction and it teaches children about what it means to look after something (even if it is just a toy). Freddy really enjoys playing with it, in particular with the recording and repeating functions. He will sit for ages making it say silly things or speak in funny voices. Freddy also loves the physical aspect of the interaction, with the cart, the dancing, the wing flapping and the swinging. Having the Cleverkeet on the hand perch and being able to carry it around with you is also a nice touch, meaning you are not restricted to playing in the playground itself.

Little Live Pets Cleverkeet

At around the £60 mark, this is poised to be a popular toy this Christmas. Perfect if you don't want a pet but want all the fun of a super smart feathered friend to keep the kids amused! This innovative toy gives children a unique experience through its interactive functions. There is definitely hours of fun to be had with this toy, and even when not in use, it will look lovely sat on a shelf.

The Little Live Pets Cleverkeet is aimed at children aged 5 and up.

Here is a video of Freddy demonstrating some of the functions while he plays with his new super smart, interactive feathered friend!


Star Wars CrocsLights and Crocband Jaunt Rain Boots from Crocs #review

When I was contacted by Crocs to try out some of their range, I was surprised to see that the brand offers so much more than just their famous range of classic clogs. In fact, they sell sneakers, boots, wellies, loafers, flats, flips and sandals too, in a host of colours and designs. There are classic Crocs for kids featuring favourite characters from Star Wars, Minions, Frozen and The Avengers. There are also some great wellies and boots that would see them through the colder weather. There is an extensive men's range too.

Freddy was sent a pair of Kids CrocsLights Star Wars Darth Vader Clogs. The black clogs feature a red strap with the Star Wars logo on the back. A permanent Darth Vader Jibbitiz charm decorates the front of the shoe. Other Star Wars themed Jibbitz are available to purchase to add further intergalactic decoration, attaching to the holes in the front of the shoe. Around the sole is a funky light up light sabre, which flashes red when the shoe is stamped on the ground. The effect delights kids of all ages who will feel that the force is with them!

Star Wars fans will adore these shoes. They are sturdy, lightweight, comfortable to wear and easy for kids to put on and take off independently. Freddy likes to wear his when he has his swimming lessons because they are so easy to manage: he can go sockless and they don't get soggy!

Freddy says "My Star Wars Crocs are amazing and I love them! The light saber is really cool on the side." So that's a definite thumbs up from him. He has been demonstrating the flashing lights to everyone he meets. I'm willing his feet not to grow for a while yet, because he will be gutted when they are too small.

The Star Wars light up Crocs are £39.99 and available in sizes up to size 3.

Crocs, Star Wars

I received a pair of women's Crocband Jaunt rain boots in navy, the perfect welly style boot for the wet weather we've been having recently! They are made from fully moulded Croslite material, which is waterproof, lightweight and durable. They have a stylish retro stripe running around the sole and at the top of the boot are two reinforced holes for pulling the boot on. The sole has good grip, perfect for being out in the rain. There are two holes at top of the boot for attaching Jibbitz charms to personalise them if wanted.

Wearing this boot feels very different to ordinary rubber wellies, They are so light and bouncy underfoot and the moulded Croslite is stiffer and feels more sturdy. The fit is roomy with good width and are spacious around my calf.

These boots are going to be great for the garden, winter walks or for splashing in puddles with the kids. They keep your feet dry and warm.  They can be easily rinsed off after being worn keeping them looking good for the season.

The Crocband Jaunt Boots are £39.99 and available in a range of colours. They are available in sizes 3 to 9.

Crocs, wellies

Find these and the rest of the range at

Friday, 25 September 2015

Halloween Fun with Aldi Specialbuys

We love Halloween here Inside the Wendy House! So we are very excited to be testing out a range of goodies available from Aldi this October. As ever, the Aldi products are great value for money meaning you can enjoy Halloween without worrying too much about going over budget.

Aldi, Halloween, budget

Spooky dressing up costumes such as witches, vampires and skeletons are just £3.99. Perfect for parties, fancy dress discos or Trick or Treating. A Halloween tutu set with skirt and wand is just £1.99 and Halloween boppers, to add a scary twist to any outfit, are just £1.79.

When it comes to parties, Aldi has a superb range of tableware starting at just 89p. 12 packs of paper plates, bowls, napkins, cups and loot bags come in two spooky designs and will make any party table look the part. The Boo and Trick or Treat designs are both very appealing and colourful. Quality serving bowls and drinkware are also available, and will be sure to impress your guests. Metal Trick or Treat buckets are just £1.79 and come in four designs. Filled with sweets and treats, they will make a lovely party favour or table decoration.

trick or treat, halloween party

Decorating the house is easy with Aldi's range of Halloween themed novelties. LED tea light holders and battery operated lights will add an eerie ambiance to the house. The LED tea lights come with batteries included and the flickering light looks lovely. Spider's webs, gel stickers, dancing skeletons and inflatable characters will help set a spooky scene. To surprise Trick or Treaters, Aldi have some fiendishly fun door knockers and musical door bells that will interact with anyone who comes to your door. At £6.99 they are great value and very cool. The kids will love them and they turn your home into a proper haunted house.

Halloween party

When it's bedtime, the Halloween fun doesn't have to end. Aldi has a range of brilliant kids' bedwear for just £3.99. Your little monster will be able to snuggle up in a choice of two designs of pyjamas. Freddy received the glow in the dark Booo! pj's with a friendly ghost design on the front, green cuffs and spooky eyes on the trouser legs.  A spooky DVD before bed might be fun for little ones and a selection are available in Aldi at just £3.99. This would make a fabulous family fright night in!

Aldi also stock lots of great value confectionery ready for any trick or treaters who come knocking, plus they have everything needed to host a spooktacular party: food, soft drinks and alcohol, all at low prices.

These are the Halloween Specialbuy products available in store while stocks last:

Halloween Inflatable Characters £12.99
Dancing Skeleton £7.99
Halloween Serving Dishes £6.99
Musical Door Knockers/Bells £6.99
Children's Dressing Up Set £3.99
Children’s Halloween Pyjamas £3.99
Halloween Battery Operated Lights £3.99
Halloween Berry Lights £3.99
Halloween DVDs £3.99
Halloween Drinkware £2.99
Girl's Halloween Tutu Set £1.99
Children’s Halloween Boppers £1.79
Led Tealight Holders £1.79
Trick Or Treat Tins £1.79
Pumpkin Carving Kit £1.49
Children's Halloween Tights £1.29
Assorted Partyware  £0.89
Halloween Gel Stickers  £0.89

Halloween Spiders Web  £0.89

From costumes to tableware to decorations to DVDs to character inflatables, Aldi has got Halloween covered! Aldi's Halloween Specialbuys will be hitting stores on October 1st and will be available while stocks last, so make sure you don't miss out.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Netflix and Chill - what I'm watching this month #streamteam

This month, we have discovered a new show, enjoyed some great films and revisited an old favourite on Netflix. Here is my pick of the Netflix crop.

Mockingjay Part I

Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss Everdeen in this installment of the Hunger Games. Battle weary and traumatised from her explosive participation in the last games, Katniss is living in District 13, while Peeta and the other surviving tributes remain in the Capital, prisoners and political pawns of the regime. Under the guidance of President Coin, Katniss becomes the Mockingjay, the face of the revolution, inspiring other districts to rise up against the Capital. A daring rescue and a fierce battle ensue as the revolution gains momentum. A shock ending leaves us on tenterhooks.

I am so looking forward to Part II and the final chapter of the Hunger Games. It's great to see the films on Netflix and Kezia and I have enjoyed watching them together. They are great family films to watch with older kids.

Hunger Games

Sons of Anarchy

After we finished watching Breaking Bad, Ian and I were on the search for something new to watch together in bed. We have just discovered Sons of Anarchy and that is filling the Walter White sized hole in our life!

Sons of Anarchy stars the rather gorgeous Charlie Hunnam as Jax, a member of the outlaw motorcycle club in the town of Charming. Since becoming a single dad and discovering his own father's journals, his loyalty becomes tested as he questions the increasing lawlessness of the Sons of Anarchy and how the club is run. The group run a lucrative illegal arms dealing business and keep drug dealers out of town, usually with violent consequences. Jax's mum and stepdad, who is president of the Sons of Anarchy, like to keep things old school and the conflict between them impacts upon the club and their personal relationships.

We're not very far into the first season (the first of seven!) but already we love the way it's filmed and think the characters and scripting are excellent. Jax is a tough but likeable character who takes no nonsense and fights for what he believes in. His mum is a formidable character that you both love and hate, who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. How she treated Jax's ex wife in the first episode was utterly shocking!

I am looking forward to seeing how the show progresses. I've heard such good things about it.



I've been revisiting the series that spawned the successful movie actors Nicholas Hoult, Dev Patel and Jack O'Connell. Skins started in 2007 and ran until 2013. The exploits of the years 12 and 13 teenagers, feature some controversial storylines including teen pregnancy, mental illness, eating disorders, suicide and family breakdowns, fuelled by a cocktail of drink, drugs and sex. It's hard hitting stuff, superbly acted and emotionally charged, with some great comedic moments thrown into the mix. The characters are both believable and likeable and you laugh and cry alongside them.

Every two years the cast changes, as the characters leave school and new kids start year 11 at the Bristol college, The series has seen some fantastic breakthrough performances from the cast and the scripts are powerful.

Skins is a series that gave older teenagers and young adults a drama that they could really relate to, but even at my age I enjoy the gritty realism of the show. A number of top British actors including Peter Capaldi and Harry Enfield guest star and it's always fun to spot them make an appearance!


Monday, 21 September 2015

The Evolution of Nana Wendy

If I'm honest, I've never been much of a baby person. Yes I admit, cuddling a newborn baby is a precious experience and they do smell delicious, but they also seem so fragile and they basically sleep for most of the time. If they are not sleeping, they are feeding or pooping or crying. There may be a few magical moments in between but mostly a little baby does what little babies do 24/7. I've always preferred the toddler stage. Toddlers are feisty, interactive, robust, cheeky and full of fun. They can chatter to you, understand you and they choose if they want to spend their time with you or not! You get to see their developing personalities and build a genuine relationship with them, where love and trust will be nurtured and grown into something genuine and beautiful.

My grandson Ted is getting close to his third birthday. He is now at the age where I can really enjoy him as a little person in his own right, and not just as an extension of his mum and dad. As a baby, I saw him as my son's child, delighting in the new role my son Joe was embarking on, which filled me with such immense pride. My own connection with Ted was through Joe, and amazing as that was, I felt slightly on the periphery, looking in on this miracle unfolding in my son's life. We live too far away to have been able to be a permanent feature in Ted's early days, so my grandparenting was done remotely rather than being hands on. Every time we visited, I'd look for a sign that he remembered me or knew who I was, forever hoping that the family bond would grow even in my absence.

I spent this weekend with my son Joe, his fiance Jade and my grandson Ted. We visited Alton Towers and had a fab time. Our favourite ride was the River Rapids, with all us in one of the round boats getting splashed and squirted as we whizzed through the water. It was so much fun watching Ted experience these things for the first time. On the Sunday morning I was woken up by Freddy and Ted bashing me with foam swords (little monkeys were being egged on by Joe of course!). Then at lunchtime, we all sat around the table to enjoy a family roast dinner together.

These are the days I have been waiting for, ever since the day I found out that I was going to be a gran. Ted is full on, energetic, boisterous and funny. He makes me laugh with his antics and leaves a trail of toddler-made destruction in his wake as he runs around, a little boy on a mission to explore, learn and play. He is everything I imagined and hoped my grandson could be. He may look just like his mum, but his personality is so much like his dad's in so many ways!

Theme park, alton towers

When he squeezes his chubby little hand into mine so we can walk along together, or when his little voice calls me Nana Wendy or he calls Ian 'Guitar Grandad', or when he says 'I love you', I just melt. He knows exactly who we all are. He enjoys being with us and his laughter and smiles are infectious. Ted told me stories, played lots of fighting games with his Daddy and his Uncle Freddy, enjoyed dressing up and having his face painted as a skeleton and generally made himself completely at home with us. He is comfortable here and he understands that we are family and we love him. This is how I dreamed grantparenthood would be and for Ted, he now knows and understands his place in our family, and realises just how adored he is.

I am honoured to be his Nana Wendy.

face paint, day of the dead

Friday, 18 September 2015

Halloween and Autumnal Crafts from Baker Ross

We really enjoy receiving arts and craft goodies from Baker Ross and our latest delivery of Halloween and Autumnal craft kits has provided Freddy and the friends, with lots of creative fun!

We received  the following selection to try out:

Top Hat Craft Kit  Pack of 3 £2.70
Day of the Dead Foam Stickers Pack of 105 £2.99
Scratch Art Haunted Houses Pack of 8 £2.95
Woodland Animals Cross Stitch Pack of 5 £3.49
Hedgehog Cushion Sewing Set Pack of 2 £4.70
Year of the Monkey Stained Glass Monkey Decorations Pack of 6 £3.96
Wooden Trophy Magnets Pack of 8 £2.79

halloween, autumn, art

The Baker Ross craft kits contain almost everything required to create some lovely crafted pieces. With impressive end results, they allow children to feel confident in their creativity and help develop their skills. Freddy really loves to invite his friends over to share the fun and help him to test out the Craft-it! sets. Having a Craft Party is a great idea for entertaining children, and the Baker Ross sets lend themselves perfectly to this.

The first activity they enjoyed was the Scratch Art Haunted Houses. The pack includes 8 black house shapes and the tools for scratching away the top surface. Underneath the black is a shiny holographic style, silver design, which contrasts really well giving a striking effect.

scratch art, halloween

The top layer scratches away really nicely so you don't damage the under layer when creating your design. Once completed, the houses are made free-standing by slotting in semi-circular cardboard feet. This was a little bit fiddly as the slotted feet are quite easily ripped, but with an adult's help the display of Haunted Houses made a dramatic and spooky Halloween scene!

Halloween, Baker Ross

This year is the Chinese Year of the Monkey. The Stained Glass Monkey Decorations are a lovely way to celebrate that fact. The set comprises of 8 pre-cut monkey shapes in black card, with push out, pre-cut holes. There is also a bag of coloured cellophane squares in assorted colours and some ribbons for attaching to the hanging decoration.

Baker Ross

You need to use glue to attach pieces of cellophane to the back of the monkey shape, which show through the holes in the design. The boys enjoyed doing this, but it was very messy with glue going everywhere! They made some very colourful (and very sticky) monkeys that look very pretty hung in front of a window with the light shining through.

Older children would be able to take more time and cut smaller pieces of cellophane to make a more multi-coloured and neater effect. But even when done by a 4 year old and a 6 year old, the end results are still pretty good!

Baker ross, monkey, art

The Day of the Dead range of products on the Baker Ross website is absolutely brilliant. I love the colours and the designs. The set of self adhesive Day of the Dead foam stickers are lovely. There are 35 assorted designs including skulls, guitars, hearts, flowers and maracas in each pack of 105 stickers. They lend themselves to a whole host of crafting activities from card making to decorating jewellery boxes or photo frames.

The boys used them to decorate some cool Halloween Top Hats.

Baker Ross

The Top Hat making kit comprises of pre-cut, thick black cardboard pieces that are glued together to make the rim and the top of the hat. There was no way the boys could do this unaided so the adults stepped in!  Given time and a good glue and something to hold everything together while it dried, I think you could make a pretty good and sturdy top hat. However, trying to get it done quickly so the boys could get sticking with their Day of the Dead stickers, meant the end results were not as good as they could be. This is not an activity to be rushed.

The materials themselves are good quality and well cut. In hindsight, I think using glue dots would have been a better way of assembling the hat. The hats would be a good addition to a Halloween costume and can be personalised using any decorations you like.

Halloween, Baker Ross

Freddy and his friends decorated their hats with the Day of the Dead stickers and they looked pretty cool and ready for a Halloween party! The foam stickers have a peel off back making them easy to stick on. They are such good quality and give an impressive effect.

Baker Ross, Halloween

As ever with Baker Ross, I was impressed with the quality and the designs of the finished crafts. I love that everything comes pre-cut or pre-punched and ready to use with minimum preparation needed. Almost everything you need is included, we just used our own glue and scissors to complete the crafts. The activities are quite straightforward and can be completed by children with varying degrees of skill. Even the youngest children will be able to participate in many of the crafts with supervision, while older kids can unleash their creativity independently and put their own artistic spin on the finished results.

Baker Ross products, including the ones we tried out, can  be found on their website at

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Hazelnut Coffee Yankee Candle #review

Summer appears to have bid us its final farewell and our first steps into the autumn have begun. To welcome in the season, I have a wonderful Hazelnut Coffee large jar candle from Yankee Candle, which burns with a glowing warmth, giving out a lingering fragrance of sweet scented coffee shops. Autumn is definitely the time for Hazelnut Lattes and this candle embodies that aroma perfectly.

The Hazelnut Coffee candle is a full-bodied blend of Java coffee beans suffused with macadamia nut, vanilla and cocoa bean. With up to 150 hours of burning time, this candle will fill your home with its rich, warm fragrance for days. It makes my living room feel so cosy and smell so good!

The scent does not smell overly strongly of coffee, it is more sweet, rich and nutty. Freddy says it smells like chocolate brownie and ice cream. I love the colour of the candle and the classic style of the Yankee Candle jar is timeless. The fragrance is good when the candle is both lit or unlit, so simply by leaving off the lid my room is delightfully fragranced.

The Hazelnut Coffee candle is only around for a limited time so grab one while you can. It is one of a number of candles making a special appearance in the range. The large jars have an RRP of £21.99.

candle, coffee

Find this and the rest of the Yankee Candle range at

Win a Joynormous Surprise with Cadbury #surprisejoy

Cadbury are giving away 20,000 Joynormous surprises to UK and ROI customers who buy a promotional Cadbury bar. Inside the wrapper is a unique code that you need to enter at (or for Ireland), which will give you a virtual scratch card online. Reveal five symbols for a Joynormous surprise created just for you worth up to £10,000 or four symbols for an amazing surprise worth £500. If you reveal up to three symbols, you are entered into a prize draw to win one final bonus surprise worth up to £5000.

You can enter two codes a day, with winners of the main prizes notified instantly on screen and the prize draw winner within ten days of the closing date. Promotion ends on November 30th 2015. There is a further Wrap-Up Draw that is open between December 1st 2015 and April 30th 2016. Codes entered within this period will be in the prize draw for a further £5000 surprise.

Each surprise will be specially tailored to individual winners based on their likes, dislikes, dreams and joys. So maybe we should all start planning what our ideal prize would be!

Even if you aren't one of the 20,000 lucky winners, you will still get to enjoy a yummy bar of Cadbury chocolate - so in that respect everyone's a winner!

chocolate, win, competition

Find out more at

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Playing and Learning with Faber-Castell

Freddy returned to school last week, and after a slightly shaky start is settling down well into Year 2. It is a big jump for him to go from a class where play was the focus into a class that consists of children in both years 2 and 3. Hopefully though, he will do OK and get more confident and discover loads of new things that will ignite his passion for learning.

At home, I think it is important to maintain the momentum and support his formal education with some fun creative activities, so when Faber-Castell sent him a bundle of art goodies, we were very pleased to test them out. Faber-Castell allows children to explore their creativity through the world of colour and their products are individually designed to suit the child's age and development.

The products we received came from the Connector range, which all benefit from having connectable attachments keeping component parts together. We received the Connector Clip Colours, a Jungle Adventure Creative Craft Kit with Connector Pens and a Connector Paint Box.


The Clip Colours Connector Pens have special lids that clip into each other, keeping the pens attached to one another. This is extremely handy to avoid the problem of rolling felt tips, especially when in the hands of a six year old on an arty mission. 


The tips are quite fine and the colours are vibrant, making these pens lovely to use for both colouring in and drawing pictures or designs.

stationery, Faber-Castell

The connectors are used for creativity rather than practicality in the Jungle Adventure craft kit. The pieces clip together in a way that makes them great for modelling. The set comprises of some art sheets featuring cut out animal body parts, which can be coloured in using the 12 pens that are included in the set, and attaching them together with the 20 Connector clips and 50 caps to make a giraffe, a bird and an elephant model. Full colour instructions are included, for completing the project. There is also a background that can be coloured in to create a fun jungle scene. The set gives tips on how to colour in using different techniques such as using squiggles or dash lines. The Connector pieces can be used in a lot of different ways in other creative projects that children will enjoy discovering. At £7.99 this is a good value set, also available in Desert and Ocean Adventure themes.

crafts, connectors

The Faber-Castell Connector Paintbox is really lovely. It contains twelve blocks of colourful water soluble paint, a tube of white paint and a retractable Clic & Go paint brush in a palette with a lid.

painting, art

Each individual block of paint can be removed from the palette and they can be joined together using the connectors on their edges. This enables the artist to put together a set of colours of their choosing or order them in the palette to suit their needs. The brush is great as it retracts into the handle keeping it safe from damage when not in use. The underside of the lid of the box can be used to mix paints, which is handy, and the lid clips on securely for storage. Prices start at £10 for the 12 paint palette.

Faber-Castell, painting, art

The Faber-Castell products will certainly inspire little artists to create some works of art, but are also suitable for older, more serious creative kids.

Stockists include where you can find the range of Faber-Castell Connector products.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Testing some new products from the E-Cloth range.

I am a big fan of e-cloth. I love their range of environmentally friendly cleaning cloths and products for the home and for personal use (the hair turban is still one of my favourite beauty must-haves!)

I have been trying out two new products in the range, the Kitchen Whizz and the Natural Mineral All Purpose Cleaner.

The Kitchen Whizz is a handy little pad made with long fibres and scrubbing stripes that is ideal for a quick clean in and around the kitchen sink, taps, draining board and work surfaces. You simply dampen it, wring it out and then give it a whizz around the surface that needs to be cleaned. Like other products in the range, you don't need any harsh chemical products as the fibres pick up dirt and residue and remove 99% of bacteria using just water. It can be machine washed to keep it hygienically clean and is guaranteed for three years.

green cleaning, ecloth

The Kitchen Whizz resembles a scouring pad but it much softer and nicer to use. It really does a good job of cleaning, and gets into hard to reach areas. I love how it brings stainless steel up to a lovely shine. It was also great for whizzing over the hob, bringing it up clean and shiny.

At just £2.99 it is a real bargain.

Sometimes, you get a tough stain that nothing seems to shift. I sometimes find such marks on my work surface made by a rusty can that has been put down for recycling or a glass ring stained with red wine. There are also sometimes hard to shift stains on PVC door or window surrounds or water marks in the enamel sinks. When you need a little extra cleaning power, the new Plus by e-cloth Natural Mineral All Purpose Cleaner is a natural and bio-degradable product with the power to remove grease, stains and stubborn dirt with ease.

green cleaning, ecloth

The tub of cleaner comes with a sponge and a red general purpose e-cloth to make cleaning up really simple and effective. You simply clean with the damp sponge, making a foam with the paste and rubbing in a circular motion, wipe away the residue and then buff dry with the cloth to get a sparkling finish. The cloth also removes over 99% of bacteria.

The product dissolves and lifts away stubborn stains brilliantly and impressively. It's great on stainless steel, enamel, ovens, pots and pans, showers, bathrooms, BBQ's, garden furniture, cars, caravans, trainers, fact it'll tackle loads of household cleaning jobs.

The paste cleaner lifted some really stubborn stains from my outdoor PVC window sills. Ian had tried to use a spray cleaner before with no effect, but the paste and cloth worked a treat. I powered through the water marks and limescale build up around the sink and on the shower screen and tray and even shifted some pen from a doll's face. This cleaner really works.

At £9.99 for the 300g tub of cleaner, the 32cm x 32 cm general purpose e-cloth and the sponge, it is a great value buy, which will last for ages and make your chemical kitchen cleaners redundant!

Both products along with the full range of excellent e-cloth products can be found at where postage and packing is free on UK orders over £10.

Friday, 11 September 2015

A Mexican Fiesta with Veetee Rice

Veetee have sent me a hamper of products and challenged me to make something delicious using their microwaveable rice with a world cuisine theme. As a big fan of Mexican food, I decided to use the Spicy Mexican Style Rice as a base for two vegetarian dishes that are quick and easy to make and are totally family friendly, bringing a taste of Mexicana to my home for everyone to enjoy.

Mexican food is colourful, vibrant and deliciously tasty, with a smoky warmth and a kick of chilli heat. Eating it conjures up images of Latin American fiestas, plazas selling street food, Mariachi bands playing and the chilled vibe of the 'manana' lifestyle. Mexico seems to embody a passion for life that is reflected in the cuisine itself.

I really enjoyed creating Smoky Bean Burritos and a One Pot Mexican Spicy Rice and Quorn Chicken dish using the Veetee rice, which were both very much enjoyed by the family. Having the Veetee rice pre-cooked and seasoned makes it an excellent ingredient for adding to dishes, saving time and adding flavour. Here are the recipes.

mexican, vegetarian

Smoky Bean Burritos

8 large tortilla wraps
1 onion chopped
1 carton of chopped tomato with garlic and chilli
1 tablespoon smoky chipotle sauce
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 can of red kidney beans
1 can of pinto beans
1 can of chickpeas
1 pack of Veetee Spicy Mexican Style Rice
grated mature Cheddar cheese

mexican food, vegetarian

Fry the onion in a deep frying pan.
Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan and add beans, tomato puree and smoky chipotle sauce.
Cook for about 10 minutes until slightly reduced and combined.
Microwave the Veetee Spicy Mexican Style Rice for 2 minutes on high.
Add to the pan and stir through.
Take each tortilla wrap and put a big spoonful of the bean and rice mix into the centre.
Top with grated cheese.
Fold into parcels to make the burritos.
Put in an ovenproof dish.
Top with a little more grated cheese and pop into a pre-heated oven at GM 6 for 15 minutes.
Serve with salad, guacamole, salsa and sour cream. They are also delicious cold!

Mexican food, vegetarian

One Pot Mexican Spicy Quorn and Rice

1 pack of Quorn fillets defrosted
1 tablespoon of smoky chipotle sauce
oil for frying
1 handful of frozen peppers
1 pack of Veetee Spicy Mexican Style Rice

mexican food, vegetarian

Chop a packet of defrosted Quorn fillets into chunks.
Fry in a little oil and add a tablespoon of smoky chipotle sauce to coat and season.
Add a handful of frozen mixed peppers and cook through for about 3 minutes.
Add one packet of Veetee Spicy Mexican Style Rice and stir fry for a further 3-4 minutes until piping hot and combined.
Serve with freshly boiled corn on the cob.

Heat and Eat

Veetee Heat and Eat microwave rice is available from most major supermarkets with an RRP of £1.49. Available in Spicy Mexican, Thai Jasmine, Peri Peri and Pilau flavours, which are suitable for vegetarians. Each pack serves  1 as a meal or 2 as a side, or it can be used as an ingredient in recipes.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

I See Me Personalised Story Book

What child wouldn't want to own a storybook where they have a starring role?!  With I See Me! children aged up to 8 years old can see their own name and photo featured in a beautiful personalised book, designed to celebrate their own uniqueness.

personalised books

One from the range of over 40 books available from I See Me! is the very lovely book that Freddy received personalised just for him: "Freddy's Very Own Trucks and Things That Go". With lively, rhyming text and full colour illustrations, it takes a child on an adventure where animals use a variety of different vehicles to deliver the letters of their name to a construction site. Each personalised vehicle begins with one of the letters of the child's full name and the story culminates with the child being able to see them erected as a giant sign dedicated to them.

The hardback book contains paper that is thick and glossy, giving the book a top quality feel. We love how the vehicles had Freddy's name on them and how children can see the arrival of each letter delivered by land, see or air by the hard working animal characters. Even if the child's name contains multiples of the same letter, there is a variety of different vehicles so the book doesn't repeat itself. Freddy has four D's in his full name and even though the dump truck delivered two of them, the text was different both times, acknowledging that it had returned with another D so there is no repetition of pages. 

The front of the book has a personalised dedication to Freddy featuring a photograph, making this book a lovely gift and keepsake that will be treasured forever. The back features an encyclopedia of 'things that go' with pictures and information on each vehicle, which will add some useful words to a young reader's vocabulary. 

This book is great for encouraging kids to read and little ones will be able to discover the letters in their full name, learning to spell it in a fun way. Each page is rich in detail and even the youngest child will enjoy listening to the story and looking at the lovely illustrations. Having the personalisation throughout the book also helps build a child's self-esteem and confidence.

I See Me! personalised books

Other books in the range feature princesses, pirates, fairy tale characters, outer space, sports and animals. There are books for big brothers and sisters, ones to celebrate new babies and titles for Christmas and birthdays. Each one is beautifully printed especially for the child, featuring the child's personal information and photo. The personalisation differs from title to title with some stories featuring the child's hometown, best friend's name, birth date and favourite colour in addition to their name. Some books even give the option to customise the character in the book to personalise skin tone and  hair colour. Others include the child's photo throughout the book. These options make each book completely unique, making reading them a special experience for every child.

I See Me! is an award winning and much loved American company that specialises in these wonderful personalised books as well as a range of personalised gifts. The site is very user friendly, allowing you to see inside the books before you commit to buy.

Books can be shipped to the UK for approximately £6.50 postage and packing with a two week turnaround time. My Very Own Trucks book retails at £23.

I See Me! Children's Personalised Books will make a lovely gift for any special occasion and really will be treasured for years to come.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Twenty Years of Change

Twenty years is a long time.

So many things have happened.

So much has changed.

My three youngest children were born, and along with their two older siblings, have become the wonderful people they are today.

Ian and I got married, cementing a relationship that began when we were still in school.

Princess Diana died in that terrible Paris car crash. The princes have grown into fine men breathing new life into the royal family and a new generation of baby royals have now taken their place in the monarchy.

The Spice Girls formed and split up. Take That split up and then reformed. The Rolling Stones and Meatloaf are still going strong.

Hollywood lost Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Christopher Reeve and Patrick Swayze way too soon.

We've seen the meteoric rise of the internet, WiFi, smartphones, smart TVs, laptops, smart watches, iPods and iPads.

Our entertainment has been dominated by Minecraft, PS3s and PS4s,World of Warcraft, X Boxes, Netflix, Sky TV, X factor, Big Brother, Pixar and GTA.

We've watched The Matrix, Avatar, Minions, Frozen, Wreck it Ralph, Twilight, The Avengers, Monsters Inc, Jurassic World - all in glorious high definition.

The Simpsons, Eastenders, Casualty and Corrie are still running, but we have said farewell to Top of the Pops, Friends and ER.

Binge watching box sets has become the thing to do. Breaking Bad, Scandal, The Walking Dead, House of Cards, Once Upon a Time and Dexter - how I have enjoyed you!

We read Kindles instead of books. Harry Potter brought magic in to the muggles' world. Fifty Shades of Grey brought erotica (albeit poorly written erotica) into the mainstream.

We have YouTube, digital photography, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Pinterest and Twitter. We are connected 24/7.

Starbucks and Costa serve us skinny decaff pumpkin spiced lattes and double shot caramel macchiatos.

The 2012 Olympics saw Team GB win golds galore as London became the place to be.

We fell in love with the Blade Runner Oscar Pistorious and were left shocked and disgusted by his violent fall from grace.

My family all became vegetarian and we've witnessed Quorn become a staple product in supermarkets. All but one of us remain true to our plant based diet.

There have been terrible wars and natural disasters, which have shaken our world to its core.

We've witnessed examples of humanity and inhumanity in equal measure.

I have become a very proud Nana and Grauntie as new babies are born into our family.

Our family has evolved as wings have been spread and good-byes have been said, but home is always where the heart is.

So much has happened. So much has changed.

And it's all gone on without you here to see it or be a part of it.

Twenty years without you.

It still hurts.

It always will.

I miss you Carol.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

How we celebrated Ian's birthday

Ian and I have been together forever. We've known each other since we were 12 and been married for 18 years. So we've celebrated plenty of birthdays and special ocassions together. Yesterday my wonderful husband turned 47. 

Over the years, the way we choose to celebrate the big events in our lives has evolved. Rather than being a couple who buys presents for each other, we prefer to do it differently and don't do gifts. Being gift-free eliminates so much stress and takes away the potential for disappointment. The expectation of him buying you the perfect present or you getting him something that ticks all his boxes, can lead to so much unnecessary tension. If you fail to read your partner's mind or find something that they think somehow proves your love for them, it can literally ruin your big day. And yes I speak from experience. Once Ian surprised me with jewellery. The lovely little box promised so much, but the plain gold chain inside (lovely as it was) disappointed me dreadfully. Did Ian think I was plain, unfeminine and unworthy of anything fancy? My response was irrational, ungrateful and frankly pathetic. It put a downer on a special occasion and made me feel like a horrendous human being for my ingratitude. 

Also, with the current economic climate being what it is, buying costly but unnecessary items is literally draining cash out of the family coffers. Extravagant gestures don't impress me. Love and appreciation can be expressed without a big price tag. Ever since we chucked out this expensive tradition, we have been free to express ourselves without relying on material things and expensive surprise gifts. (However my mum still asks us every year what we've bought for each other and looks so disappointed when I say "Nothing!")

This year we decided that a few days away together would be a nice way to celebrate the long weekend leading up to Ian's birthday. Our Veggie Vacation in Leicester proved to be a gastronomical delight of vegetarian proportions. We had some fun shopping, picking up some band merchandise from HMV, novelty t-shirts from a quirky printing shop, some goodies from The Disney Store and some Minecraft stuff from Forbidden Planet. We also got to spend some quality time with Ian's big sister Debbie while we were there, which was lovely. 

The next day we went to Alton Towers, staying overnight in the new Enchanted Village accommodation. As Merlin Annual Pass holders we often visit Alton Towers and always enjoy ourselves. Our little lodge in the village was just so adorable, looking like something a hobbit would inhabit in the Shire. The attention to detail, from the wooden log cushions to the beautifully decorated kids' bunk room to the fairy door in the wall, was just magical. We loved it!

days out, theme park

Two days in the park was plenty of time to do everything we wanted to do. The queues are still pretty short on the big rides, although CBeebies Land is quite busy. The girls were able to hit the rollercoasters, while Ian and I did the kid friendly rides and attractions with Freddy. It's a great day out for all of us.

After our few days away, we came back home ready to treat Ian to his annual birthday meal. Ian is an absolute rock star to us, so a rock music themed dinner party was our plan. The girls and I designed a Mexican buffet style meal with a rock twist, using rock group/food puns alongside some gothic Ozzy Osbourne 'Prince of Darkness' style decor. Iron Maiden beer fitted the theme perfectly. Blasting out some Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin on vinyl and wearing rock band T-shirts completed the evening.

rock, mexican food, food puns

Ian's birthday has been fabulous and we have had a lovely time. It has been a great way to end the summer holidays. Next week Ella will be back at university and Kezia and Freddy will be back at school. The prospect of going back to reality isn't filling me with much joy, but I have some plans to make the most of my time being here at home on my own again. Kezia's 13th birthday is in October so I'm going to start planning for that and Christmas is only a few weeks away!! Any excuse for some more family celebrations!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A Veggie Vacation in Leicester

When you think of cities for a gastronomically themed UK break, I doubt that many people would think of Leicester in the first instance. However, we have just returned from a weekend in the city to celebrate Ian's birthday, enjoying the wonderful food on offer for vegetarian families like ourselves. The Veggie Vacation is one of the Stay, Play and Explore short breaks that you can enjoy in Leicester. Each break includes a hotel stay with breakfast at the Ramada Encore in the city centre, as well as some additional experiences all included in the price.

The Veggie Vacation includes a choice of three out of five experience options. You can choose between a three course meal and hot drink at Mirch Masala; a cocktail making class with two drinks each at 33 Cank Street; buffet lunch and drink at Shivalli; afternoon tea at White Peacock and a consultation and shop tour with arm massage at Lush. You can pre-book your three choices before you travel and print off your voucher online to take with you on the day.

veggie vacation, leicester

It was great to have an all-inclusive package to look forward to, helping us to plan our weekend, knowing that most of our food was taken care of and pre-paid for. As vegetarians, it was lovely to be able to take the hassle out of eating out. All the experiences offered provide a tried and tested vegetarian option (and in some cases vegan), so we knew we could enjoy them with confidence.

Our first port of call in Leicester was the White Peacock where we had booked a vegetarian afternoon tea. The place was lovely with attentive staff and stylish decor. It was a real posh treat! We were served tea or coffee followed by a slate plate of quartered or fingered sandwiches with fillings such as brie, cucumber, egg, feta & roast pepper and grated cheese with fruity pickle. They were elegantly presented. A pair of two tiered plates of cakes followed including warm tonka bean and saffron scones with clotted cream and fruit compote, salted caramel panna cotta, strawberry tart, chocolate and parma violet cream cake, chocolate truffle and iced fruit and almond cake. There was plenty of food to go round and it was all in easy to manage portion sizes, meaning we got to try everything.

veggie vacation

Mirch Masala is a completely vegetarian restaurant serving food from India, Mexico, Indo-China and Italy. The menu is staggeringly huge and we were utterly spoiled for choice with their huge array of starters and mains from around the world. Usually in restaurants we get to choose between two or three options at the best, so having a whole menu at our disposal was brilliant. However it took us ages to choose, but thankfully our waiter was very patient and on hand to answer our questions. We finally decided on an eclectic mix of world cuisines including Chinese dim sum, Mexican nachos, Italian lasagne and Indian curries.

veggie vacation

The food was really very good and the portion sizes were massive. Leftovers were boxed up and returned at the end of the meal to take home for later. Mirch Masala is a real gem in the city centre for vegetarians and vegans alike, with reasonable prices, great choices, good food and excellent service.

veggie vacation, leicestershire

Shivalli was our destination for our lunch on Sunday. From the outside the restaurant looks quite unassuming, but once inside it was lovely. The buffet of Southern Indian curries, rice, dosa, appetisers, popadoms and salads looked and smelled so appetising. We were shown to our table and brought drinks and a jug of water. We loved that we could select our choices from the buffet in little silver bowls and serve ourselves at the table. One pet hate of mine is having a plateful of mix and match food on my plate, so this worked so well, allowing us to savour each dish. In addition to the buffet, which had some incredible tasting veggie curries, we were also brought some freshly prepared pancakes filled with spicy potato curry and some puffy breads. Everything was divine and the attentive, friendly service made this a wonderful experience.

veggie vacation, Leicester

In addition to our fantastic food, we also enjoyed shopping in some of Leicester's quirky and independent shops (and in their big shopping centre too). It is a really nice city and there was lots going on with buskers and street performers doing their thing as well as the Sky Ride cycle event taking place. The Ramada Encore was a good place to rest our heads. The rooms were clean and well equipped with tea and coffee making, a hairdryer and big TV. The bathroom was superb with a huge walk in, wet room style shower. We had a selection of Lush samples in our room to test out too, which was a real treat.

leicester, veggie vacation

Overall, we had a brilliant weekend. The cost of the Veggie Vacation with overnight stay, breakfast and the three experiences per person is just £129 for two adults sharing. Such a great value way to explore a new city!

We had two rooms, one for Ian and I and one for Ella and Kezia, and we also took Freddy with us, who slept in a sofa bed for a supplement of £15. (He was too young to go to the White Peacock as that is for 12's and overs, but was welcomed everywhere else. This gave us the chance to take Ian's sister, who doesn't live too far from Leicester, for an girlie afternoon tea with us, while Ian took Freddy to Costa for his lunch, so it worked perfectly for us. )

With Family Fun, Family Adventure, Heritage, City Treats, Gourmet Taste and Richard III vacations also available, there is an option to suit most people's needs.

Find out more about these exciting short breaks in Leicester at


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